Medical residency bill before committee today


The state House Committee on Higher Education will hear today a bill proposing funding for the Hawaii Island Family Medicine Residency program.

The program, administered by Hilo Medical Center and Hawaii Health Systems Corp., is viewed as an important tool to help address the Big Island’s growing doctor shortage. The first class of four doctor residents is scheduled to begin the training program in Hilo this July.

Organizers of the program say that studies have shown that doctors often choose to remain and practice medicine in the locations where they were trained. The interdisciplinary program also works to train advanced practice nurses, registered nursing students, pharmacy students in clinical pharmacy practice, health psychologists and baccalaureate nursing students.

“This interdisciplinary training model can be expanded to other neighbor island health facilities to generate interdisciplinary teams capable of caring for four times as many patients as independent practicing physicians could alone,” reads the bill, introduced by state representatives including Hawaii Island delegates Richard Onishi, D-Hilo, Keaau, Kurtistown, Volcano; Richard Creagan, D-Naalehu, Ocean View, Captain Cook, Kealakekua, Kailua-Kona; Cindy Evans, D-North Kona, Kohala; Faye Hanohano, D-Puna; Nicole Lowen, Kailua-Kona, Holualoa, Kalaoa, Honokohau; Mark Nakashima, D-Hamakua, Hilo; and Clift Tsuji, D-Keaukaha, parts of Hilo, Panaewa, Waiakea.

“Hawaii will benefit greatly as the Hawaii health systems corporation program contributes to training primary care providers in the emerging model of primary care and patient-centered medical homes, and attracts health care providers to practice in rural Hawaii, including the neighbor islands.”

Program administrators have been involved in the selection process the past several months, receiving 112 applications for the four resident spots. Those initial applicants were winnowed down to a pool of 30 to be interviewed via Internet video conferencing. A total of 17 applicants were chosen for onsite interviews in Hilo. On March 21, the program organizers will learn who has been chosen for the program based on the combined preferences of applicants and the program selection committee’s scoring.

The goal of the program is to ultimately pay for itself through reimbursements associated with providing health care to the community at the Hawaii Island Family Medicine clinic in Hilo, which will serve as the residents’ base of operations. But until the clinic and family practice training program are well established, funds from Hilo Medical Center and the state, among other sources, are needed to keep the program going.

Last year, the Legislature appropriated $1.8 million to fund the program. This year, organizers are hoping for as much as $2.8 million.

“For this 2014 session, we are at a crucial juncture in terms of securing financial stability that will see this program come to fruition,” wrote HMC CEO Howard Ainsley in a Jan. 23 update on the program. “With a request for a budgetary line item of $2.8 million, we will be able to attract candidates who will have a major impact on the health of our people.”

The House Committee on Higher Education will hear House Bill1742 today at 2 p.m. in a conference room at the state Capitol. Last month, the House Committee on Health approved to advance the measure unanimously with amendments. Should the higher education committee approve HB1742, it will move on to the House Committe on Finance.

A similar bill is also working its way through the Senate. Senate Bill 2107 was passed unanimously and unamended by the Senate Committee on Health on Feb. 3.

For more information about the Hawaii Island Family Medicine Residency program, visit hifmr.org.

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.